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Strength for stormy days

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Matthew 14:22-36

I hate roller coasters. As long as I can remember, I have hated high places. Jesus said, “Lo I am with you always,” and that’s enough for me. So you can imagine what I think of roller coasters.

They used to have simple names. Now those at Six Flags in Arlington are called Mr. Freeze, Flashback, Texas Giant, Runaway Mountain, Shockwave, Judge Roy Scream. The newest monstrosity is suitably named the Titan. Towering 255 feet above the earth, it drops people at 85 mph. People wait in line for an hour to ride for 3.5 minutes. But not me. Our youngest son has already ridden this beast, and thinks its great. I think it’s hell defined. Or at least Purgatory.

You know how a roller coaster feels. Your car gets to the very top, and just comes over it. You can see only the sky above you, but you know that the bottom is about to fall out. And you’re right.

This morning I’d like to show you a prayer for the roller coaster. A prayer for stormy seas, a prayer which brings peace to a world in pieces. It’s the shortest prayer in the Bible, and one of the most urgent. If the prayer of Jabez was special, the prayer of Peter is even more significant. Whatever your theological depth or spiritual knowledge, you can pray this prayer. And you should.

I’d like you to learn to pray it with me today, and every day for the rest of your life.

See Peter’s problem

First let’s join the story where this amazing prayer is found.

It’s late at night, around 3:00 in the morning, and we’re on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has sent his disciples off in their boat, while he climbs one of the nearby hills to pray.

Suddenly a catastrophic storm attacks them.

These disciples are in a small fishing boat. A few years ago archaeologists discovered a boat they date to AD 40, identical to the one these disciples used. It measures 27 feet by 7½ feet; its sides are just over an inch thick. It’s no help in a storm. I’ve been on the Sea of Galilee during a wind storm in a tour boat, much larger than their fishing vessel, and found it a frightening experience.

Now their boat is “buffeted by the waves” (v. 24). The Greek word means that it was “tortured.” Water is stinging their faces and drenching their bodies. The wind is howling in their ears. They are fighting for their lives.

And Jesus sees their crisis.

He walks on the water three or four miles to them. Matthew records the miracle just that simply (v. 25). By now Matthew has seen Jesus crucified and risen from the grave—walking on water is no big deal to him.

But it was to them, and they are terrified.

So Jesus calls to his frightened disciples: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (v. 27).

Peter takes him at his word. “If it’s you…” is better translated, “Since it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water (v. 28).” Jesus calls, “Come!” So Peter goes. He leaves his boat for Jesus. This man who has spent his life fishing these waters now walks on them. Imagine a pilot flying without his plane, a deep-sea diver without his apparatus, an astronaut without his suit. He walks to Jesus.

Until he sees the wind and the waves. Taking his eyes from his Lord in fear, he begins to sink. He’ll drown. He’s going to die.

Now comes his prayer, one of the greatest and most profound prayers found in all the Bible and all of recorded literature. A prayer filled with the deepest spiritual and theological significance. A prayer we must all learn to pray every day.

Here it is: “Lord, save me!” It’s just that simple. And that profound. And Jesus answers this prayer, then and now.

Trust Peter’s Lord

Do you need Peter’s prayer? Let’s spend some time with each of his three words. First, “Lord.” Master, King, Boss. The Romans insisted that their Emperor be called “Kurios.” Peter calls the Nazarene carpenter Kurios. Lord. Why? Why should we?

Peter knows some things about the Christ born at Christmas. For instance, he knows that Jesus is the creator of the cosmos. Anyone who can calm storms and walk on their waves must be their creator. And he’s right.

Colossians 1:16 teaches, “By Jesus all things were created.” All things. Not coincidence or chance—the creation of the Christ of Christmas.

Dr. Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist who served several years as a post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology. In his book, The Creator and the Cosmos, Dr. Ross documents 33 parameters essential for life to exist on a planet. Things like galaxy type, star location, star age, carbon dioxide level in atmosphere, axis tilt, and so on. He has determined that the probability for occurrence of all 33 is 10 followed by 42 zeroes. This is nearly twice as large a number as the total number of planets in the universe. In other words, we’re not here by chance.

Peter knows that this Creator still rules his creation. He still rules the storms he made.

Dr. Ross cites an example of this fact. The luminosity power of our sun has increased by more than 35% since life was first introduced on our planet. This change has been more than enough to exterminate all life here. But a decrease in the greenhouse effect in our atmosphere has exactly coincided with the increase in the sun’s power, maintaining life on Earth.

The astronomer Robert Jastrow states, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

And Albert Einstein, reflecting on the wonder of our created universe, adds: “The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. . . . His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”

Peter knows about this superior intelligence.

And he knows that this Creator and Ruler, this superiority of intelligence, had the power to fold all that glory, all that universal divinity, into a fetus and be born in a cow stall in an insignificant farming village.

Herod the Great somehow sensed it, too. For all his enormous power, he knew there was somebody in diapers more powerful still (Frederick Buechner, Listening To Your Life, 6).

G. K. Chesterton, looking at Christmas, said it well: “The Child that played with moon and sun is playing with a little hay.”

Isaiah called the Christ of Christmas the “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). Now he is ready to be your Mighty God. How? Start by calling him Lord.

Learn Peter’s prayer

Next say Peter’s second word, “save.” The word means to rescue, to pull from death to life, from despair to hope, from storm to safety. Save! Do you need this prayer?

What is your storm? What in our fear-filled, terrorist attacked world most frightens you? Is your storm a person? Someone in your family or other relationships? Is your storm raging at work? At school? In your own heart or mind or body? What is your storm this morning?

What is your boat? What security are you trusting today?

If Enron can declare bankruptcy, whose job is safe? If the Pentagon can be attacked, what place is safe? If George Harrison’s fame and money couldn’t cure his disease, what person is immune? If the Holy Land is at war, what land can be at peace?

Do you think that terrorists won’t attack Dallas? That anthrax can’t get in our mail? We used to think that what’s happening in Israel would never happen to America, then it did. We used to think that the stock market would never liquidate $600 billion in one day, then on September 17 it did. We used to think that our jobs, or finances, or abilities, or resources would protect us. Then they didn’t.

The blunt truth is that there is no boat which can shelter us from the storms of life. No amount of money can protect us from terrorism without or within. No physical security can keep us from meeting death one day. No resources or abilities or possessions can ensure our peace, our well-being, our tranquility and joy.

And one day we will meet God. On that day there is no boat we can trust. It will just be you and him. Edward Bennet Williams, the legendary trial lawyer, was dying, and someone mentioned all his power and influence in Washington. He said, “Power? I’m about to meet real power.” He was right.

Do you need to say to the Lord and Master of all creation, “save!”? If you do, you must add Peter’s last word. You must say to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” You must admit that you cannot save yourself. You cannot create for yourself a life of significance, purpose, or joy, any more than Peter could walk on water without Christ. So say to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Say it today.

Conclusion

Are you caught in a storm this morning? Where do you need Peter’s prayer personally? Because of Christmas, the Mighty God is waiting to listen. He came to Bethlehem and to Dallas. He’s walking to you right now. He’s waiting to hear you and help you.

Are you still sitting in the boat? Afraid to leave your security, your shelter? I should tell my friends at school what Jesus has done for me, but I’m afraid of what they’ll think. So I stay in the boat. I should take a stand for what’s right at work, but there’s a price. So I stay in the boat. I should trust God with my money, but I’m afraid of being poor. So I stay in the boat. Life has dealt me a cruel hand—death, disease, or failure. So I stay in the boat.

Ships are safest in the harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.

Can you hear the Mighty God call to you, “Come”? Where is God calling you to faith? To obedience? To sacrifice? To the next step?

Joseph is the subject of our Sunday school lesson today. Can you imagine a greater storm than the one God asked him to step into? He risks his family, his livelihood, his life. He gets on the water. And he changes the world.

God needs another Joseph today. He needs you.

One of my favorite quotes in all of literature is this statement by Teddy Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

The Christ of Christmas is the Mighty God. Is he yours?